This is Not My Story. This is OUR Story. COVID-19 in Canada.

When we acquire knowledge, we learn.  Sometimes this happens when we explore something new and seek information.  Other times, learning happens when our experiences shift our perception and challenge our pre-existing beliefs.  As adults, there are times where we stop in our tracks and realize our previous thinking was wrong.

This is one of those times.  Like many Canadians, I am watching press conferences and reading news stories as COVID-19 spreads worldwide.  Just weeks ago, when the disease had little impact in Canada, I jumped on the bandwagon and laughed at memes of people over-reacting and clearing grocery shelves, hoarding a huge supply of essential items like toilet paper.  I assumed the panic associated with this disease was largely due to media hype and hysteria.

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I’m Not THAT Principal: Re-Imagine the Role

I’m Not THAT Principal: Re-Imagine the Role

There are certain occupations that tug at our heart strings.  We naturally associate warm feelings with kind professions such as the florist, the massage therapist, and the kindergarten teacher.  We expect to like them.  Contrarily, other professions seem to arouse fear or anxiety just buy stating their title: the cop, the auditor, Continue reading

Feedback From My Dog

Some dogs hate thunder storms.  From what I understand, they shake, whimper or hide somewhere safe.   Our puppy is 18 months old now and until today, loud noises like fireworks or thunder have not bothered him.  Tonight was different.  My 100 lb. golden doodle was doing everything he could to ‘be small’.  He tried to hide under the kitchen table, he shook, and he drooled all over the floor.  It wasn’t pretty.  photo[2]

But here’s the thing… there wasn’t a storm tonight.  No fireworks, no thunder.  Instead, just the not so pleasant sound of me learning to play the saxophone.  You see – I work at this incredibly cool self directed school called Thomas Haney, where the teachers are not afraid to live their learning.  Conversations about innovation and inquiry happen daily, and the idea of teachers joining in to learn with our students is not a foreign concept.

However, when eleven of us travelled together to the ‘CCSDL Above & Beyond Your Wildest Imagination Conference’ in Edmonton last month, some of our ideas truly fit the title.  Somewhere over the course of the four days, a conversation took place where we decided we would head back to school and we would all go well beyond our comfort level and learn something new.  Each of us would learn an instrument we had never touched before and together we would form a band.  To be honest, I don’t even think I was in the room for the conversation.  All I know is I left Edmonton with information that I was now in a band.  Ironically, I have not held an instrument since my grade nine music teacher asked me to drop out of band after a previous trip to Edmonton where I apparently broke too many band trip rules (his opinion at least).

Since returning to Thomas Haney, we have met once a week to practise.  And I would like to tell you we are starting to sound good.  But that’s not true.  To be honest – we are horrible.  The sound from the music room Tuesdays at lunch is enough to prompt a school evacuation.  Thank goodness for sound proof walls and a patient music teacher.  Together, we are learning the clarinet, flute, oboe, saxophone, piano, trumpet, trombone, drums and accordion.   I think we are all trying to play the same song – but from the sounds of it – I’m not quite sure.

But here’s what I do know.  We are taking risks.  We are learning and we are having fun. We are putting ourselves in a position that we ask our students to take each day.  We are starting with very little knowledge or ability, but we trust that with time and effort we will learn, and together we will get better.  What I love, is that we are trying something that doesn’t come naturally to us.  As teachers, we often discuss pedagogy, blending our own experiences with theory, yet in reality, many of us have not struggled as learners. We have each successfully navigated our way through high school and university so do we really know what it is like to fear learning?

I don’t know that I did.  Until now.  Every Tuesday at lunch, I know exactly what it is like to struggle.  I have watched youtube videos on the saxophone, read the music book and practiced (a bit), yet still, the sounds that escape the instrument ranges from a howling cat to a squeaking car brake.  And I’m glad.  I’m glad we are starting out like this – and I’m glad we are capturing it for our students to see.  Eventually we will be able to demonstrate the progress we made, and share our learning journey with our students.  We are laughing and we are working together.  Not only are we forming a band – we are experiencing what it is like to be vulnerable and learn something new.

And – here’s the thing:  I think we are getting better.  You see, last week when I was practicing, my husband opened the door to let the dog out.  The noise from my instrument caused a ripple effect and every dog for a mile was howling.  Tonight – it was just my dog, drooling all over the floor and hiding his head under the table.   I’d say that means I’m getting better. That’s some pretty authentic feedback, even if it’s coming from the dogs 🙂

Our Continuous Opportunity to Learn

This Thanksgiving, my husband and I travelled to San Francisco for a four day get away. We hit the regular tourist hot spots including Fisherman’s Wharf, Union Square, the Cable Cars and a 49ers game. We also took a trip to Alcatraz, getting a firsthand look at the infamous prison. We took the audio tour where we were each given a pair of headsets allowing us to hear the voices and stories of the prisoners and the prison guards as we walked through the corridors. This experience impacted me much more than I anticipated. The best way I can describe my emotion is to compare it to a disturbing but true movie, where you are glad you watched but don’t really need to see it again. For the first thirty minutes, we saw the cells, heard about the prison conditions and read about the prisoners who resided at Alcatraz. Regulation #5 was posted throughout the jail reading “You are entitled to food, clothing, shelter and medical attention. Anything else you get is a privilege.”

As we turned the corner, we walked into the prison library. I was unexpectedly overcome with emotion. I held back tears as I read about the library. The prisoners who had no physical freedom were able to earn the right to education, or mental freedom. They were permitted to order books or register for distance education classes. The average prisoner read 70-100 books per year to create a mental escape from their reality. The books became their hopes and dreams. In an institution where metal bars jailed their bodies, the library freed their minds and allowed them to learn. Some of the prisoners embraced this opportunity and developed skills and knowledge preparing them for life after prison. Near the end of the tour, we learned about four prisoners who left Alcatraz after their sentence and became contributing members of society, giving back in their communities and helping deter youth from a life of crime. This is such a wonderful example of the power of education and the power of restorative practices. Education is freedom.

This Thanksgiving I reflect on my own life and realize I have so much to be grateful for. I am thankful for my friends, my family, my amazing husband our boys, my career and my health. After visiting Alcatraz, I am also thankful for the learning opportunities that exist all around me. In any moment I can choose to read a book, engage in dialogue, sign up for a course, Google a topic or visit a library to improve my understanding of the world. We have the continuous opportunity to learn and for that I am thankful!

Happy Thanksgiving!